Term Paper: Manifest Destiny in the Past and Present

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Manifest Destiny in the Past and Present

There once was a time when the United States was very different from how it is like today -- once, it was smaller than Massachusetts Bay. Once, Hawaii and Guam were not part of America, and once, America was isolationist, contained within its own boundaries. America, as the world sees it today, expands over a vast portion of a continent, extended to other lands across the seas. It is a world power crucial to the world today. The force that enabled such development of America was the idea of Manifest Destiny, which endured a series of transformations in order to promote the expansion of both American culture, and political power. The concept of manifest destiny, although not as influential as it once was during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, remains a powerful underlying force in American cultural and political thought, as evinced by the nation's attempts to promote modern American political and economic ideals around the world. It must be understood that although manifest destiny may sound like a term which promoted the positive expansion in America from the east coast to the west coast. While this expansion benefited many, it also harmed or destroyed many others. Manifest destiny was the cause of wars and the near extermination of the Native American race. In expanding across the Americas, many had to fight for their lives to hold on to what already belonged to them. The annexation of Texas is a prime example of people fighting for and losing what was theirs to begin with. This annexation was the primary cause of the Mexican War which the Mexicans eventually lost (Chiodo 203). The attitudes that went along with manifest destiny were that of expand and conquer and were generally not favorable to such races as the Mexicans, African-Americans and Native Americans. These groups suffered the most during this time (204). Kaplan states that America thinks that it is invincible as Rome once did, but that this country is setting itself up for failure and that the events of September 11, 2001 are a perfect example and only the beginning of this country's downfall (13).

There are others who hold similar views of America as does Kaplan. Niebuhr feels that America is a smug nation and its citizens are smug people. He states that Americans belief that we are where we are today because God is on our side and that we have His favor (12). This is a true testament to the fact that as a nation, most Americans are cocky and have a sense of entitlement. This is probably a sweeping generalization, but we as a nation must remember how we came to be in the position that we are in today. Many aspects of American history, such as slavery and the treatment of the Native Americans should be an embarrassment to our country. This is not to say that we should hold onto the past, but we should learn from it so that we do not make the same mistakes again.

The early European colonists justified the creation of a "New World" on the American continent by claiming a divine providence, which was believed to have given the settlers the right to conquer and disseminate their ideals to the predominant, primitive inhabitants of early America. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the narrator of the novel explains that the Puritans were quick to believe that "a high and glorious destiny awaited" the colonists in "the New England which they were here planting in the wilderness" (Hawthorne 95). The Puritans, the first settlers to set foot on the American continent, were driven by a staunch belief in their God-given right to expand their religious beliefs beyond the myopic scope that was once provided by their mother country, England. The confidence that the Puritans gained upon their arrival on the discovered land not only triggered determination on the fulfillment of their goal as missionaries, but also spurred the confidence in the development of a well organized community. This plan for infrastructural development was, as a matter of fact, initiated shortly after their arrival, which allowed the establishment of towns within a relatively short period of time.

Whether acknowledged or not, this was a form of colonization. There was a certain assumption amongst the white settlers that the Native Americans were primitive and needed to be civilized. When colonization occurs, one group is forced to submit to another group's culture, religion and beliefs. It is in fact a hostile takeover and this was part of the manifest destiny. Colonization during these times was considered to some benevolent. In other words, those seeking to expand thought they were doing the natives a justice by "gently" forcing them to become what they thought was civilized. Some of this colonization was done by force, while some was cunning. Many Native Americans were persuaded to sell their fertile land to the federal government with the promise that the monies received would be used to develop communities and improve agriculture systems. However, many white settlers did not play by the rules and forcefully took the land from the natives by force (Guyatt 994).

The intent of the white settlers was never to pay anything to the Natives to possess their land. This is the reason for the enormous amount of bloodshed during these times. Manifest destiny was not a positive venture. It was more about taking the land by force in order to create a nation with an economic and class system that favored the whites over any other race. Most of the land out west was seen as fertile and the white knew that they could profit off of this land by owning in and deciding on ways that would make the most money for them. However, the land was already inhabited and instead of purchasing the land in an honest way like they purported to do, they took it by force because they felt it was their right to own everything. They knew that many lives would be destroyed, especially those of the Native Americans and also the Mexicans, but their quest to own and control the states was much greater than their desire to do things fairly and equitably.

Wealth and greed were the reasons for manifest destiny. During the mid-1800's, many Native Americans lived peaceably in California. They had lived in this state for many centuries before James Marshall discovered that the land was rich and fertile and produced gold. People came in droves to the state hoping to strike it rich. They did not care that the land was already inhabited by the Indians. Because manifest destiny was so prevalent during this time, they felt they had a right to expand, conquer and take anything that would improve their economic stance. The Native Americans suffered greatly during this time as they were force off of the land that they had lived for centuries.

The Native Americans lived sustainably on this land because it was good for their hunting and gathering. This land was essentially their livelihood. When the expansion and greed occurred and they were forced off of the land, many times by brutal force, starvation took place because the gold miners and pan handlers ruined their environment. Many Indians tried unsuccessfully to fight for their land and as a result, they were either scalped, beheaded or their children were sold into slavery (Chatterjee).

To the early Americans, divine providence did more than releasing them from religious persecution; the providence was soon used as a justification for westward expansion. Two centuries since their arrival on the Newfoundland, the interest of the vast majority of Americans turned towards exploration and the settlement of their territory to the West. The most prevalent idea is well illustrated in a poem by Henry David Thoreau, who once wrote:

"I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west"(Thoreau 234). As the poem points out, many Americans were subjected to a subconscious pull towards the west, passively following the progression of America from the "east to west," as they have travelled from Great Britain, across the North Atlantic Ocean, moving west.

This belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent was first coined during the 1800's, under the term "manifest destiny." In the 1800's, a journalist, John L. O'Sullivan wrote in an article, while not using the term "manifest destiny," envisioning a "divine destiny" for the United States based on values such as liberty, and equality, which were told "to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man" (O'Sullivan 2).This term and ideology was widely accepted by the public, and it was most often used in pieces of writing in order to inveigle citizens to take part of the expansion, planting curiosity and assurance on the fact that manifest destiny, with the right given by the God,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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